Namibia: Noa's 'Ark' in Stormy Waters

The Anti-Corruption Commission's head of investigations, Nelius Becker, has resigned, adding to widespread speculation that top officials at the corruption watchdog are embroiled in an intensive power struggle.

Becker's departure follows that of ACC chief investigator Hendrina Shikudule, who quit last month. Becker is set to work as the head of the crime investigations department at the Namibian Police as of August 2019.

His resignation comes at a time when investigators are reportedly frustrated about salaries and called for the creation of an internal committee to advise ACC director general Paulus Noa whether to investigate subjects.

Noa has been accused of blocking investigations, an allegation he has constantly denied.

Becker declined to comment, but police inspector general Sebastian Ndeitunga confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that Becker was returning to the police.

"Yes, he is coming back. I don't know why he is leaving the ACC, but I also wanted to have him back," he said.

ACC spokesperson Josefina Nghituwamata was secretive about the issue, claiming that Becker was still an employee of the commission.

Becker joined the ACC in 2007 after working in the police from 1983 to 2004, where he also served in the serious crimes unit and as a unit commander.

He hinted last year in an interview with the Windhoek Observer that he wanted to return to the police.

"I miss that work every day, but the police don't want me there. They apparently have a policy that once you leave, you can't go back," he said.

The Namibian understands Becker partly left because of infighting and frustration at power cliques within the ACC.

Sources said he was one of the officials frustrated at decisions to stop investigations into the cases of certain people.

Another chief investigator who left in May this year is Shikudule, who confirmed to The Namibian yesterday that she had left the ACC. She declined to comment further.

NOA'S POWERS

A proposal to force Noa to consult an ACC committee whether to investigate cases came up at a meeting at Swakopmund in March this year. This is the same gathering where investigators recommended that the law be changed to give the anti-corruption watchdog teeth to probe inflated prices, incomplete tenders, and corruption in the private sector.

Noa was not present at that meeting, adding to speculation that he is increasingly being isolated at the institution due to an ongoing power struggle within the ACC top brass.

The director general is empowered by the law to take a decision on who should be investigated. Noa has for years faced accusations that he protects certain people in power from investigations.

For instance, in 2017, finance minister Calle Schlettwein condemned Noa's decision to drop the investigation of N$36 million paid by the government to UK-based lawyers for advice on genocide reparations advice. He reopened the case.

The ACC chief did not answer questions sent to him this week, but minutes of that meeting, reviewed by The Namibian, show that Becker and other senior officials agreed to recommend the formation of a committee to advise Noa on who should be investigated.

Becker informed the meeting at Swakopmund that decisions to investigate subjects should not be left to one person only.

"Mr Becker further suggested to the meeting to vote for the recommendation to the director general to set up an internal committee to review all the cases before he makes the final decision," the minutes of the meeting read.

According to the minutes, ACC deputy director general Erna van der Merwe gave an example of Botswana, where the ACC's equivalent has an informal committee that sits weekly to make recommendations, even though the director general has the final say.

Becker declined to comment when approached by The Namibian this week. "I don't discuss internal issues in public. It's not even newsworthy. The act is clear. We work within that law," he said.

Another proposal made at the meeting was the creation of an intelligence and assessment division.

"The establishment of a reporting centre is very crucial at the moment. Since investigators are loaded with dockets, they spend more time taking reports from whistle-blowers than following up on dockets," the minutes said.

That's when Becker said some investigators are not prioritising their work, and that the speed and the energy put into it are not up to standard.

Another recommendation is improving the law to tackle corruption in the private sector such as at auctions, the inflation of prices, conflict of interest, and incomplete tenders.

These are not the only recommendations made in the past few years.

The Namibian reported in 2017 that ACC officials accused Noa of sitting on recommendations that would sharpen the legal powers of the agency to fight corruption such as criminalising conflict of interest, introducing term limits for the ACC boss, reducing political interference in investigations, and empowering investigators.

ANGRY INVESTIGATORS

Noa has in recent years faced strong resistance from administrators at the organisation, who called him out for his frequent travels.

Now, his investigators are also unhappy about several issues, including salaries and other benefits.

"Investigators were not even consulted during the regrading process," the minutes recorded one of the investigators as saying about the change of salary grades.

The Namibian understands that some investigators have dragged the commission to the labour commission because of the "forced salary downgrades".

Others at the Swakopmund meeting fumed about car and housing allowances, while another officer said "the ACC management does not take staff members' grievances seriously".

Investigators believe that the education department is favoured.

"Investigators use their cars to go out for investigations, while education officers park their cars. Investigating officers do not have any allowances, and now they have to fight for one car," the minutes of the Swakopmund meeting said.

Van der Merwe promised to look into the matter of salaries, and urged investigators to work hard and focus on their work to produce results.

She also referred the investigators to Noa and the executive director, Hannu Shipena.

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